TERRY GROSS, host: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Now that Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have established themselves as top companies in information technology and entertainment, they're expanding into new territory, and sometimes that means encroaching on each other's territory.
My guest, Farhad Manjoo, says they're on the verge of war. His article "The Great Tech War of 2012" is published in Fast Company. He's also the technology columnist for Slate. A little later, we'll talk about digital etiquette.
Farhad Manjoo, welcome to FRESH AIR. So why are Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon on the verge of war?
FARHAD MANJOO: Yeah, so these four companies, I argue, for the last, you know, five, 10 years, they've all been doing really well. But they've all for the most part kind of stayed in their own lane. So when we think of a company like Amazon, for example, we think of a company that started out selling books on the Internet and now sells all kinds of things on the Internet, but we largely think of it as a company that sells stuff.
It doesn't - until recently, it wasn't making products. It wasn't sort of running servers that other people could use. But in the past few years, Amazon has gotten into that business, which puts it in direct competition with Apple, which makes products. For many years, we thought of Apple as a company that made computers. Then it started making music players. Then it started running a music store. Then it started selling books and movies, and now it's making, you know, a phone.
And that's sort of the large story of these four companies. They all had kind of one product, but now they're branching out into all kinds of new products that aren't only sort of aimed at each other. They're not just trying to take over the tech industry, but in many ways, I think these four companies are trying to disrupt every other business in the economy.
We see them getting into - you know, I mentioned the media business, TV, movies, books, but we also see them getting into, in small ways so far but I think in bigger ways soon, they'll be moving into the banking industry in terms of helping us pay for stuff.
They will be increasingly doing things like becoming part of the communications infrastructure. So maybe Google will be your cable company. Maybe it'll be your broadband company, or it'll be part of that transaction. So that's kind of what's amazing about these four companies.
You know, there are industries that are bigger than the tech industry, the oil industry for example, but these four companies are - they're making bigger changes to our daily lives, and they're affecting more parts of the economy than even, you know, something as huge as the oil industry.
GROSS: So the backdrop for what you're saying is that you're living in an era which is being described now s the post-PC world, the post-personal computer world. What does that mean?
MANJOO: It means that even though we're going to spend a lot of time with computers that we think of as computers, that is computers with keyboards and with screens and with a mouse, we'll still spend a lot of time using those devices, but more and more of our time will be on devices that are - that look like phones and look like the iPad.
And the key thing about these devices is that they're small, and they're portable. So you have a phone with you wherever you go. It's constantly connected to the Internet, and those features change the way we interact with those devices. For example, you can think of paying for stuff with your phone. You can think of meeting people up on the go with your phone, taking a photo and mailing it to somebody immediately and letting the world know where you are and what you're doing at this moment.
This is stuff that is changing how we interact with the world, and this is where the future of innovation in the tech industry is: all these devices that you take around with you wherever you go and are constantly connected.
GROSS: And because your cell phone is just - your smartphone is just used by you, they can really track what your tastes and your preferences are, and I think these four companies, or at least some of these four companies, hope to always be selling you things.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: You always have something to buy them with right in your pocket.
MANJOO: Yeah, so that's the other big change. I mean, because these devices are tied to an individual, whatever you do on those devices sends back data, data to companies like - advertising companies like Google or Facebook. And all of that data is being collected, and in various ways it's being mined. It's being sort of analyzed to try to figure out who you are, what you want.
You know, some of this is somewhat sinister in the sense that they're trying to create a better profile of you to create better ads, to create ads to - that are targeted toward you so that you'll buy stuff, you know, because of those ads. Other uses of this data is less sinister, and you might even think of it as beneficial.
For example, one of the technologies that Google released in the past few years anonymously tracks where its Android phones go. So if you have a phone that is powered by Google's operating system, when you're driving down the road, the phone might send back data to Google about how fast you're going, where you are and various other statistics about your drive.
And then Google can collect all of that information from all the Android phones, and it can create a very accurate representation of traffic patterns in a city. And so if I tell you, you know, Google is tracking where you go, that might sound very bad, and you might not want them to know where you're going. But if I tell you hey, they're tracking everyone, and as a result, you get to get to work - you know, you can go to work 20 minutes faster because you can avoid that traffic jam because you saw on your phone that lots of other phones are stuck there, you know, you might be a little bit more amenable to that.
GROSS: So let's talk about some of the new directions that Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon are heading in and new business model's they're creating and new ways they're competing with each other. Let's start with Amazon. Amazon has been in the news lately, in part because of the new Kindle Fire, their updating of the Kindle reader, and this is not only a reader, it's a tablet that's supposed to compete with the iPad. Why is Amazon heading in that direction?
MANJOO: They're doing what a lot of competitors to Apple have been doing, which is trying to create a device that sells as well as the iPad and can sort of prove to be a very popular rival to the iPad. But they - the thing they have done that's very smart and might prove to be the reason for their success is that they've made their device less powerful, in some ways less powerful on purpose than the iPad.
So the Kindle Fire is smaller than the iPad. It's cheaper. It's $200 rather than $500, which is the cheapest iPad, and it's very intimately tied to Amazon's Web store. So you can use this device to get movies and TV shows and books from Amazon's store.
So what Amazon sees here is they don't want to make money from the device. They're selling it, from what we know, for no profit at all. But they want you to use this device to buy a lot of stuff from their store. And that looks like it could be a good way for them to compete against Apple's iPad.
GROSS: My guest is Farhad Manjoo. He writes a technology column for Slate. His article "The Great Tech War of 2012" is published in Fast Company. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Farhad Manjoo, and we're talking about the subject of his article that's in Fast Company, and it's called "The Great Tech War of 2012," and it's about how Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon are kind of going head-to-head with each other as they expand the kind of services and products that they're providing.
Now, Google started as a search engine, and now it's much more than that. Just list some of the things that Google is doing now.
MANJOO: It might be easier to list things that Google isn't doing. I mean, it does - beyond search, it has an email service. Google has various online stores. You know, it has a bookstore, it has a new music service. And the big thing recently is that in the past few years, it has created this very successful mobile phone operating system called Android, which has become a big competitor to the iPhone.
And then it's doing some very far-out things. I mean, Google - right near my house, I see Google's self-driving cars drive around. And so they're working on things that might be ready in the far future and also things that are going to, you know, be ready next year.
GROSS: Now, Google is trying to go head-to-head with Apple on smartphones, but their business model for making money on those smartphones is really different. Would you compare the Apple and the Google model?
MANJOO: Yeah, so Apple, when you buy an iPhone, Apple makes a lot of money on that device. Google's model is completely different. Google makes almost all of its money from advertising. And so their Android operating system is code that they write and they give out for free to phone-makers, the people who actually make the devices.
So Google doesn't make any money giving out this Android operating system. It makes money instead in a very circuitous way. When you look at your Android phone, when you go to do searches on Google or look at your email on there, you see advertising, and Google's main point with Android is to get a lot more people using phones and then get a lot more people looking at ads on phones, and Google makes money from those ads.
GROSS: So Google has been getting into the social network business with Google+.
GROSS: What's in it for Google to have a social network?
MANJOO: So as I said, Google makes all of its money from advertising, and the big new advertising company is Facebook. And Facebook runs ads that are known as display ads, which are sort of graphical ads that you see on the Internet. And its display advertising business has been growing phenomenally, and the reason is because lots and lots of people use Facebook.
It's closing in on a billion people around the world who are members of Facebook. So Google wants to have a rival to Facebook, and that's what the aim of Google+ is, to try get lots of people using Google+ instead of Facebook, and as a result to get some of that advertising business.
GROSS: Facebook, we think of Facebook as a social network. It's become way more than that. What are some of the fairly new areas Facebook has gotten into?
MANJOO: Yeah, I think of Facebook as - I've called it a directory of human desire because what Facebook is really doing - you know, as you go around the Web, everyone has seen those little Facebook like buttons from Facebook. So you go on a news article, and if you like it, if you thought that was interesting, you press the like button.
Or if you go to an online store, and you like a pair of jeans, you press the like button. And Facebook is collecting all of that information. And it's also collecting and looking at the ways that you interact with your friends, the stuff you share with them, stuff they click on, who comments on what.
It has all of this data in its databases, and because it has all that data, it, you know, it becomes a very valuable advertising company, but it can also move into other areas of the tech business. Lately they've added an app for iPhone and Android phones that allows customers to text-message with each other and bypass the cell phone text-messaging system. And they'll create a lot more of those kinds of apps in the future, I think.
GROSS: So you say that they plan on making money by getting you to share everything you do.
MANJOO: Yeah, I mean, what's in it for Facebook when you share something on Facebook is - I mean, there are two things. First, if you put a photo on Facebook, then all of your friends are going to look at the photo on Facebook, and that just makes Facebook much more important in people's lives. It makes it sort of the center of people's lives, the site they check every day, and that makes Facebook a more important advertising platform.
The other reason they want you to share is because they see Facebook as kind of a central place on the Internet where other apps, other services can run on top of. Recently, they created a system where you can have, for example, you can read news stories in Facebook, or you can listen to music in Facebook.
And if you're doing all that stuff in Facebook, you're not doing that stuff elsewhere on the Internet, and I think that's what they're going for.
GROSS: Now, Facebook is trying to compete with Google in the search-engine business. They partnered with Bing, a relatively new search engine. How's that going for them?
MANJOO: I don't think that they see that as a way to make money yet. I think they see that as a way to in some ways annoy Google by giving Bing a lot of data about what's going on on Facebook but not giving that to Google. I mean, these two companies are in many ways kind of archrivals, Facebook and Google, because they're right next to each other, they keep hiring one another's employees. They're sort of fighting a really aggressive battle.
GROSS: When you say next to each other, you mean their headquarters are physically near each other?
MANJOO: Yeah, their headquarters are physically close to each other here in Silicon Valley.
GROSS: Now, you write that Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google are all trying to get into the future of TV business. So - and I guess this applies to both content and devices. What are some of the problems these companies think they're trying to solve with the way we watch television now?
MANJOO: If you think about it, you know, many parts of our lives have changed over the last few years because of new technology, but watching TV is relatively the same, and in many ways it's a big hassle. You know, you have lots of different devices in your living room, you know, the television, the cable box, the DVD player, probably a video game system, and they don't talk to one another very well, which is why you have tons of remotes that you don't know which one does what, and it's a big mess.
GROSS: Lots of wiring.
MANJOO: Yeah, lots of exposed wiring. I have a baby, and we're trying to childproof the living room, and it's impossible because of all those wires.
MANJOO: So the kind of the Holy Grail for the living room for these tech companies in trying to change that is to create one device or several devices that communicate with one another and make this very simple. This is an obvious place for Apple to do something. And in Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, it seemed like Steve Jobs was saying that Apple was working on this problem and had come up with something great.
So we might see, I think, an Apple TV or some other Apple device in the living room to improve this.
GROSS: So say it's a little into the future, a little down the road from now, and you are watching TV via Facebook or on an Apple system or some Amazon system. Give us a sense of how the experience might be different.
MANJOO: If we're watching on an Apple system, one of the most significant things you'll notice is that it will be a lot easier to use, to turn on, to choose something to watch. You wouldn't have to hassle with various different remotes or turn on various input settings or something like that.
So it would be easier to use, and another change is that you would have a lot more choice in what you watch. So you would be able to choose not only what's on TV at that moment and not only what you have recorded on your, you know, your DVR, but also you would be able to choose a variety of videos that are on the Internet, and you could either - some of these would be for free, others you'd be able to pay for them kind of ad hoc.
And then the other big change is that it might be interactive. So you might be able to - maybe your TV will tell you: Hey, your friends, six of your friends are all watching HBO right now. Maybe you want to join in and watch HBO at the same time, and you can all watch together. You're all in different homes, you're all watching on different devices, but maybe you can chat about the show while you're watching it.
And so it could be interactive in that way, making TV more of a social experience.
GROSS: So are these high-tech companies trying to bypass cable companies or partner with them?
MANJOO: They're doing both. In some ways they're partnering with cable companies and trying to get their technology and their content into what we think of as kind of the traditional TV system. But in many ways the cable companies and also the cell phone carriers sit between us, the customers, and these four companies. And so they're, you know, trying to bypass them in some ways.
We see, for example, Google has been trying to create what's called a third pipe, a third way for us to get the Internet other than through our cable company or our DSL lines. They've tried various initiatives with the FCC, and they've also had some pilot programs to launch, to create fiber optic lines into people's houses, and they seem to be moving in a way that indicates they want to bypass some of these intermediary companies.
GROSS: Farhad Manjoo will be back in the second half of the show. He's a technology columnist for Slate. His article "The Great Tech War of 2012" is published in Fast Company. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Farhad Manjoo, technology columnist for Slate. His article, "The Great Tech War of 2012" is published in Fast Company. It's about how Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have expanded into new products and technologies, devices, and are increasingly colliding in the markets for mobile phones, tablets, mobile apps, social networking and more. He says these four giants are also trying to disrupt other industries.
Now, some of the new high tech companies are trying to bypass the credit card industry. What's happening on that front?
MANJOO: Yeah. So, it's been kind of a holy grail of many people in the tech industry for some time to create a way to pay for items in the real world with cell phones. So one of the technologies that Google recently unveiled is called Google Wallet, and this is an app that you would run on your phone. It only works on phones with a new technology called NFC, near field communication. And in these phones, you can wave your phone against a pay pad, you know, the thing you swipe your credit card through. And your transaction would go through that way. You won't have to swipe anything or sign anything.
It's sort of debatable whether that'll take off, because there a lot of - there are many hurdles in the way of this process. And for one thing, a lot of stores would be to create - would replace their infrastructure, their payment system, and a lot of people would need to get these new phones. So it's hard to see that this will take off very soon, but it's definitely something. Payments, in the area of paying for things with our phones, is something that, you know, Google and these other companies are very interested in.
GROSS: And why? Because I don't want to pay the fee that the credit card companies charge the vendor?
MANJOO: The purported reason at the moment is that it's better for consumers. You know, it's easier if you can have all of your coupons and have all of your credit cards on one device rather than having everything in a wallet. And, you know, that seems a little debatable to be. I mean, pulling out your phone to pay for something seems just as fast as pulling out a credit card. So the long-run goal, I think, for them, the financial goal is to be able to sit between you and anyone you want to buy something from instead of the credit card company. At the moment, nobody is saying that they want to replace credit cards. But if more people start using their phones to pay for goods, that seems like an obvious way that - for these companies to go, to remove the credit card from that system and, you know, and instead sit between us and the merchant.
GROSS: So in this motto you would, the money would come directly from your bank account, yes?
MANJOO: Right. The money would come from your bank account, and you wouldn't have to pay the fees that you might pay to your bank for using something like a debit card, and the merchant wouldn't have to pay such high fees. And so it might be better for you and the merchant, but at the same time, it would be better for these tech companies.
GROSS: Well, my guest is Farhad Manjoo, and his article, "The Great Tech War of 2012," is in Fast Company. He's also the tech columnist for Slate. So one of the things you do is you write about digital etiquette, and, you know, you respond to questions that are sent to you. And what are some of the more prevalent questions you were asked?
MANJOO: We were recently - so I did - with a colleague, Emily Yoffe, who also works at Slate, and we both talk about these problems that people present us, and then we each come to different conclusions. Emily is often a lot more conservative on these that I am. I'm a lot more - you know, I'm interested in technology, so I'm usually more liberal about how people use it. But recently, someone asked us what I consider a difficult question because I have a one-year-old. And the question is: So, say you're at a kid's birthday party, and you're taking a lot of photos of your child. And it's become the norm these days to when you're taking photos, you post photos on the Internet, on Facebook.
But what if someone - so the question is: If you take a photo of your child and there are other people's children, other children in the photo, you know, in the background, do you need permission from those other children's parents to post your photos? Or should you assume that a birthday party is now, in some sense, a public event, that if you're there, you are going to get photographed. And so if you send - if you allow your kids to go to a birthday party, you should expect that they're going to end up on Facebook.
GROSS: So what was your answer?
MANJOO: My answer was I think that if you send your kids to a birthday party, you should expect that they'll end up on Facebook, and it's the person - it's the parent of the other kids, if you don't want your child to be on Facebook you should notify all the other parents preemptively. But you shouldn't expect the photographer to ask you, because I think it's become the norm these days to post photos automatically, and you should make it known to everyone that you don't want your children in the photos if you are really adamant about that. So I think - I lay the responsibility on the parents who don't want their kids on Facebook.
I will admit that a lot of readers, a lot of people were critical of that and said they feel they have a right to not have their children end up on Facebook without giving their explicit permission. But I think that times have changed. I think that everyone has cameras these days, and you're going to end up on the Internet unless you take very clear measures to prevent that.
GROSS: I can see all the seven-year-olds going to birthday parties with release forms.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: I think that's what it's coming to.
MANJOO: It might come to that.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: So I think the thing you wrote that really shocked me the most really has virtually nothing to do with technology. It has to do with the period.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MANJOO: Oh, man.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: You got a lot of blowback from this?
GROSS: Okay. So, here's the story: I learned to type when I was in grade school. My mother bought me a typewriter. She used to be a secretary and she was a great typist, so she taught me how to type. So I learned when I was very young that after a period, you type two spaces, and then you begin the next sentence. And I'm - it's just like that's in my genetics, right. I mean, that's just, like, a given. And I'm reading your column, and you say no, that's wrong. After a period, there should be one space, and then you begin the next sentence. And I thought, oh, this is a joke. I wonder what the punch line is going to be? And I realized: It's not a punch line. It's not a joke. What are you talking about? How can there not be two spaces?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MANJOO: Yes, two spaces is wrong. And, okay. Let me explain the origin of the two-space rule.
MANJOO: So, in typography, before there were typewriters, when people kind of manually set type, the long-time tradition was to use one space after a period. The reason that two spaces were put into practice was because of the manual typewriter. And there was a type of font on the manual typewriter called a monospaced font. And basically, that means that the space between every letter was the same, and the width of every letter was the same. And so in that kind of font, it looked slightly more readable to have two spaces between a sentence than it did one space.
But when we switched to computers, we went back to using the kinds of fonts that we always use, which are known as proportional fonts. And with proportional fonts, every letter has a different width that corresponds to what it is used for. So the letter I is a lot narrower, a lot skinnier than the letter M. And because every letter has a different width, the space after a period has its appropriate width when you use just one.
And so that's how many you use. When you type in a period and you use one space, it has enough room there for you to tell what you meant. The period signals the end of the sentence, and this space after that is a word space, the same space after any word. And then you start the new sentence with a capital letter. So the two-space rule is really a holdover from typewriters. And the reason that you were taught it in school and everyone else was taught it in school was because their teachers learned to type on typewriters. But we no longer type on typewriters.
GROSS: Okay. In the I-beg-to-differ category...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: I think the two-space rule is great, because when your eye is scanning the line, it can see really easily that one sentence has ended and another is about to begin. It makes it so much more readable and the print breathes more. It's kind of like when you start a new paragraph, you either double space it or you indent it. So, you know, one paragraph is done. This idea has ended. A new one is about to begin. And I feel like a sentence should be given that same distinction, that the start of a new sentence should be honored by two spaces so that your eye can see it and you know better what the rhythm is that you're reading.
MANJOO: Yes. Many people raise that defense. And to that I say, actually, most of the stuff that you read, most published material - you know, newspapers, books, almost everything you read on the Web - has one space, and people are doing fine reading one space. Where you see two spaces is in writing that hasn't been published. So it's usually in email that I notice it. And if people are reading, you know, everything else with one space, I don't think that that readability issue is really the reason that we're using it in email. I mean, I think it's just because it's a habit.
GROSS: Okay. So this is the oldest email question in the world, but it's still - I'm still, like, so unsure what to do. Like when you send an email, do you write hi, so-and-so or dear so-and-so? Or do you just, like, send the message and have no salutation at all? Do you say, like, you know, best wishes at the end, or you just - do you sign your name, or do you just, like, end the email? What do you do?
MANJOO: Yeah. We've actually got this question at the etiquette podcast. I say it's - there's no rule. I say it depends on the person. So if I'm writing to a friend, you know, I use whatever salutation and whatever signoff that I would use when speaking with a friend. And if I write my wife, I don't use any salutation or signoff, because I don't expect that she needs me to be that formal.
But if I'm writing, especially a journalistic inquiry, I try to be professional. So I signoff by using best, which is my chosen signoff. But, you know, I've see people use sincerely and other things. That's fine. And I usually start off by saying hi or hello or dear, whatever the mood strikes me. But I guess what I'm saying is there's no rule. It should be whatever seems appropriate to that relationship. It depends on the people talking and not kind of the technology involved.
GROSS: All right. Farhad Manjoo, thank you so much for talking with us.
MANJOO: Thanks a lot.
GROSS: Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for Slate. His article, "The Great Tech War of 2012," is published in Fast Company. We already have a conversation going on our Facebook page about whether to use one or two spaces after a period. If you want to join in, go to our Facebook page, FRESH AIR with Terry Gross.
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the fifth album by Kelly Clarkson, "American Idol's" first winner. This is FRESH AIR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.